Conquering Med School and Starting a Craft Brewery—How Melissa Stanton Made it Happen
Name: Melissa Stanton
Locale: Norfolk, VA
Alma Maters: Michigan State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School
By Day: Physician’s Assistant
By Night: Marketing, Promotions, Accounting, Retail
SoFi Member Since: 2015
SoFi Savings: ~$12,600 on a 7 Year Student Loan Refi
It’s true: You can have your career and drink beer, too. But don’t take our word for it.
Melissa Stanton went to med school so she could pursue her dream job as a physician’s assistant. Then she refinanced her student debt with us to save money and turn her dream of owning a brewery into a reality. Just last year, Melissa and her husband opened Coelacanth Brewing (hard to pronounce, easy to drink) in Norfolk, VA. Since then, business has been booming. If you visit on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll find a hopping (puns) space abuzz with energy.
Read on to learn how she started the brewery—and what beers she most recommends if and when you visit.
When did you decide to go to grad school?
I wanted my time at work, away from my children, to be meaningful and impactful. I also wanted to have more flexibility and to keep learning. Becoming a physician’s assistant offered all of that, and more.
How much did you take out to pay for it?
I borrowed $70,000 in loans.
What happened when you refinanced with us?
My interest rate was lowered from nearly 7% to 5.25%. Over the life of a loan that can add up to a significant amount. I also cut the length of my loan by 36 months through refinancing.
And you had the idea for a brewery while still in school?
Yes. When I was in my Masters program, my husband and I started visiting and researching the craft beer industry. We loved the sense of community around it. And we especially thought it would be a fantastic way to support a local economy and culture in Norfolk, where we live.
How did you get things started?
We were low on funds—especially given my student debt and the fact that my husband would have to walk away from his full-time corporate job to make this dream a reality.
How did you finance the dream?
We looked at every angle to leverage all of our financial resources. One of the first places we focused our attention was my med school debt. With SoFi, we quickly and easily consolidated the debt and, in the long run, saved tens of thousands of dollars. We also lowered our monthly payments, which in turn allowed us to put the rest of our savings into Coelacanth Brewing.
How do you balance your career with your business?
I currently work as a physician’s assistant in internal medicine. While my husband and I share responsibilities for the business, he’s still responsible for most of the day-to-day operations. On my days off, I work in the tap room and attend promotional events. On nights, I work on marketing, promotions, accounting, and retail.
Tell us about your brewery.
We chose a renovated and restored warehouse in the historic Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, VA. And the community has gained an amazing homegrown, local meeting place. The beer’s not bad, either.
How’d you learn how to brew?
My husband went to school to receive a Masters of Brewing from American Brewers Guild in Vermont. We also hired a head brewer from Maui Brewing Co. that has been doing great work for us.
Tell us about the beer.
We do classic styles of craft beer, with interesting twists. The brews are malt-forward, which means they’re smoother and sweeter.
What are your favorites on tap?
I’d be lying if I chose just one. We have an India Pale Lager, called EnEfKay (NFK stands for Norfolk), that’s brewed with lager yeast which results in a much smoother finish. We also have a rosemary lemon wheat, a spiced brown ale (with notes of cinnamon, molasses, and ginger), a chocolate hazelnut brown ale, a baltic porter, and a heavy scottish ale. Guess you could say we’re big on flavor.
So, what’s next?
We plan to grow the business in the next few years and broaden our distribution. To get there though, we’ll need more brewing capacity at our current facility. We also want to open a second satellite tasting room in Virginia beach—since it’s the most profitable part of our business. Plus it will give us the opportunity to support our local economy in even more ways.
One last question—what’s a coelacanth?
It’s a type of fish that hasn’t evolved in 70 million years. It was around during the age of dinosaurs! They thought it was extinct, but found it alive and well living off the coast of Africa in the ‘30s. We chose the name because it reminds us of the mysteries of the world around us, and that there are always hidden treasures to be found. Our beer included!
Share This With Someone Who Should ‘Draft’ a Business Plan